For Jim and Judi Monsees, and their little dog Scruffy, Hillsboro Cove is more than a place like home. It is home, at least during camping season at Marion Reservoir.
More accurately, their 40-foot recreational vehicle is their home. They sold their last house in 2001 and have been living the RV life ever since.
The Monsees are one of two retired couples greeting campers at Hillsboro Cove; they’ve been at Marion Reservoir since 2005, though they worked at Cottonwood Point until the 2013 season.
The Monsees work four days on, four days off at the campsite, with their days starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 7 p.m. Saturday through Thursday and 10 p.m. on Fridays. During busy weeks and holidays, all shifts last until 10 p.m. The other couple, Bill and Susie Maple, alternate four-day stints with them.
Their job consists of checking in campers, making sure they get set up and are complying with ordinances, and as Judi Monsees said, “making sure the campers are happy.”
It’s a leisurely alternative to how the Monsees and the Maples spent their time before switching to campgrounds.
“One winter, four months of working gas and oil facilities was enough for us,” Susie Maple said.
Both couples worked as gate attendants at gas and oil drilling compounds before switching to campgrounds. There was no camaraderie between the gate attendants and those who entered the sites, and working in southern Texas they dealt with illegal immigrants.
“Some of them were nice, but some of them weren’t. I about got clubbed one day, and that was it for me working there,” Susie Maple said. “Bill had to convince me to stay through the season.”
Comparatively, campground hosting is a literal walk in the park, though both couples bought golf carts to ease the task of making rounds.
While the Monsees travel back to Texas to stay during the winter, the Maples braved last winter at the campsite, despite owning a home in Danville.
Both couples must tough out the summer though, with its rain and storms.
The wildlife is interesting, if a little frightening at times. The workers said they had seen turkeys, deer, snakes and even an occasional bobcat.
“You’ve gotta like living with mother nature,” Bill Maple said.
The Monsees have made extensive efforts to make their lot feel more homey, adding yard decorations and flowers as well as a garden.
The Monsees came to Marion originally to help care for Judi’s mother, who has since passed away. Judi still has a brother in Wellington. Other than that, they just like the area.
“Marion Reservoir is one of the prettiest lakes in the state of Kansas, in our opinion,” Judi said.
Despite its beauty, both couples said they hardly spend any time on the lake. The Monsees owned a pontoon boat but sold it, and the Maples still own a boat, but it sits in their garage at their house.
“Mostly we sit around and talk, with each other and with gate attendants from other campsites,” Susie Maple said.
To sign up to work as a campground host, one must go through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website and put a bid on a campsite, stating how much they want to be paid, though too high of a bid could mean losing out on the job.
The campground space is free, and most sites only hire couples. Most couples who do work, Judi Monsees said, are retired. Some couples travel around to different campsites across the country, though most bids are for a three-year period.
“For people who are retired, it’s a real nice way to live,” Judi Monsees said. “As long as you’ve got a camper.”